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Ethics and the curriculum

Teaching students how to make ethical decisions is mandated by The New Zealand Curriculum. Ethical issues raised by advances in science and technology are particularly useful for teaching.

Ethical decision-making

Modern scientific and technological advances give rise to a plethora of ethical issues, and ethicists use a range of approaches to help them reach a decision:

  • Consequentialism – Who and/or what benefits? Who and/or what is harmed?
  • Rights and responsibilities – Are there rights that need to be protected? Who is responsible for protecting those rights?
  • Autonomy – Should individuals have the right to choose for themselves, or does one decision count for everyone?
  • Virtue ethics – What is the ‘good’ thing to do?

These ethical approaches, or frameworks, offer different ways of thinking about a particular issue.

Get information sheet: Frameworks for ethical analysis

Curriculum links and ethical thinking

The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) requires that students develop their ability to:

  • express their own values
  • explore, with empathy, the values of others
  • critically analyse values and actions based on them
  • discuss disagreements that arise from differences in values and negotiate solutions
  • make ethical decisions and act on them (page 10).

Exploring ethical issues helps students explore their own and others’ values. It also enables them to develop their sensitivity to ethical issues and their argumentation skills.

Science, technology and ethics

Since the majority of contemporary ethical issues are associated with scientific and technological advancements, it is appropriate that students’ ethical thinking is developed in these subject areas.

In science, students learn that “many of the major challenges and opportunities that confront our world must be approached from a scientific perspective, taking into account social and ethical considerations”. As part of the Nature of Science strand students learn “to make links between scientific knowledge and everyday decisions and actions” (NZC, page 28).

In technology, as part of the nature of technology strand, students learn “to critique the impact of technology on societies and the environment and to explore how developments and outcomes are valued by different peoples in different times” (NZC, page 32).

Teaching ethics

A range of classroom activities and assessment can be used to facilitate ethical thinking and learning. It is also important to consider the classroom environment so students feel free to openly evaluate ideas, weigh up evidence, detect bias and justify their decisions.

Get information sheet: Teaching ethics

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